Long Read: Doucoure's New Lease Of Life

In an interview that originally appeared in the Everton Matchday Programme ahead for the clash with Brentford earlier this month, Abdoulaye Doucoure discusses a new lease of life under manager Sean Dyche, learning the game he loves in the Paris suburbs, and why the midfielder and his teammates will give everything for Evertonians to keep the Club in the Premier League...

In a small corner of a room shared with his three older brothers, a young Abdoulaye Doucoure is paying homage to Brazil legend Ronaldo — again.

A poster is being added to the existing collection of photographs and stickers that adorn one of the walls in tribute to the impressionable youngster’s favourite player, ‘O Fenômeno’, who he would regularly watch dazzle for Real Madrid and on the international stage.

Doucoure, who played as a striker himself during his early years, has always been obsessed. Indeed, he says, being a footballer, “has been my dream for as long as I’ve known football”.

Growing up in Les Mureaux, located in the north-western suburbs of Paris, Doucoure was the second youngest of eight children. His Malian mother and father — Binta and Mamadou — had made the move to France in the early 1980s before they began a family.

Mamadou was an engineer for automobile giants Renault, a job that initially brought him to Europe, while Binta stayed home to look after their large family.

Abdoulaye, meanwhile, has only happy memories of his childhood, many of which were spent playing football on the streets. Les Mureaux is a cultural melting pot with a large immigrant population. Teams for impromptu games were often split by kids of different nationalities, other times different communes of the French capital would be pitted against one another.

However the teams were selected, the foundations of Doucoure’s abilities were being built.

“There were lots of people like me there — people whose parents work hard so the kids hang around in the streets playing football,” he explains. “Everyone wanted to play football all of the time and that’s what we’d do.

“There were quite a lot of different nationalities and quite often that’s how we would decide on teams. So the Malian guys like me would play our friends from Senegal and things like that. It was always fun and it’s funny looking back now that’s how we did it.

“The games would usually be between guys of similar ages but I loved getting to play with the older kids. I got to do that sometimes because I was quite good and they would call me to play with them.

“There was the odd cage you could play in but most of the time it was just out on the streets. We would create goals ourselves. I remember finding bits of wood that we would use to create goalposts ourselves.

“It was tough football. There was an emphasis on dribbling. I was a striker back then and I loved to dribble, run, score lots of goals.

“They were great times, great memories.”

Paris and its circumambient areas have long been a hotbed of footballing talent.

Despite a modest population of around 10,000 people, Doucoure’s birthplace — Meulan-en-Yvelines — has also produced the likes of Real Madrid and France defender Ferland Mendy and former AC Milan forward M’Baye Niang, a close friend of Doucoure’s today having first met and played together in high school.

“It’s hard to say why [so many professional footballers come from around Paris],” he ponders. “All I can say from my experience is that football is what everyone loves.

“There’s a lot of talent there and everywhere you go kids were playing football.”

While Doucoure’s obvious talent was progressing in an urban setting, an ongoing plea to hone his skills at local side OFC Les Mureaux fell on deaf ears for a number of years due to his mother’s concern regarding a busy main road that would need to be navigated between their family home and the club’s training facilities.

However, at age 11, she relented — and provided Doucoure with the best possible platform.

“A lot of my core skills were learned on the streets,” admits Doucoure. “Everything I knew for a long time.

I learned there. They are things and lessons that last forever — I still use them now.

“My friends who have known me for a long time say that I play now just as I did back then.

“I think those early years and the background is important to every player and that’s the case for me. It was a big learning curve to play on the streets.

“But having said that, I was so, so happy when my mother agreed to let me join our local club.

“That was the best thing in the world for me when she finally said yes. I got some proper kit, proper boots... everything. I was one of the first at the club to arrive in a proper football kit and it was because of my mum.

“She said, ‘If you’re going to do it, then you’re going to do it properly and do your best'. It was a really happy time.”

By the time he was in high school, Doucoure was thriving away from football, too.

An affable youngster, he was elected by his classmates to lead on the local junior council. His first objective was simple — to deliver a “proper” football pitch with astroturf for local children.

Those plans came to fruition and the pitch remains in use to this day.

“It was a new thing,” he recalls. “They said they were going to do a junior council and, oh, I was keen on it!

“I went for it and the other kids voted for me and I managed to get elected.

“My main focus was asking for a football pitch, a proper pitch made of astroturf. We managed to get it. It was the first one in my town where I lived there.

“That made me very proud. Even now when I go back to my town, I sometimes see the mayor and we talk about it.

“It’s an amazing thing and fulfilling to think it’s being used by so many people like me.”

Abdoulaye Doucoure
It was tough football [playing football on the streets of Paris]. There was an emphasis on dribbling. I was a striker back then and I loved to dribble, run, score lots of goals.

Doucoure’s footballing talent was crucially spotted by his high school PE teacher, who was also a scout for Rennes. A successful trial was followed by a senior debut and 75 league appearances for the Ligue 1 outfit before a move to Watford in 2016, then, of course, a switch to Everton in 2020.

Fast forward to the present day and Doucoure is once again flourishing, but this time under new manager Sean Dyche.

The 30-year-old has started every game since the new Blues boss took charge nearly six weeks ago and he insists there is a hunger and freshness to his game that he is desperate to put to good use to help guide the Blues away from an unwanted situation.

“I feel very ready, ready to help the team” says Doucoure, who insists any talk of his personal future has been put to the back of his mind with only room for the collective objective in his mind.

“I’ve loved being back out on the pitch and being able to help my teammates.

“We’re making sure the mood stays level no matter what. We all know it’s going to be a long fight to stay in the Premier League and we can’t let defeats get on top of us. It can happen.

“We all need to be together and I think Sean Dyche has done really well on that.

“Everton is a massive club, always being in the top flight. You don’t want to be a player who stops that. Obviously, there is pressure but that is a good thing because it helps you to do better things.

“Everyone knows what Evertonians are like... they are so passionate.

“I’ve always felt very good here. I love the Club, I love the fans and everything here. I’m very comfortable. I’ve been here for three years and I feel attached to the place.”

Doucoure’s readiness and natural fitness have been on full view since his return to the starting line-up.

In Dyche’s first game in charge he broke the record for most distance covered in a single game by an Everton player in 2022/23, with a total of 12.1km clocked up in the memorable 1-0 home win over Arsenal.

He has run more than any other Everton player since that Goodison victory.

Athletic prowess runs in the family. Doucoure’s cousin, Ladji, who is 10 years his senior, was a gold medallist in both the 110m hurdles and 4x100m relay at the 2005 World Athletics Championships.

Doucoure, who says he feels like “running is in my blood”, completed marathons as a teenager and won multiple medals for running, counting the discipline as a potential avenue he would have pursued had football not worked out.

“I’ve always been ready to go,” he insists. “Maybe it was easy for people on the outside to say I wasn’t ready or I wasn’t fit [this season] but that was never true.

“I always make sure I am ready to play, regardless of the situation.

“I’m glad I was able to show everyone that I am ready — to run, to help. That
will always be my mentality... Never give up. I think Sean Dyche appreciated that.

“I feel great, very fresh. In a way, it feels like my season only really started five games ago. So I’m ready for anything and I want to play as much as I can.

“I’m happy to have the opportunity again to fight and to play for this club.

“The first six months of the season were difficult for me. It was the first time in my career that I wasn’t getting minutes for such a long period but I kept my head down, kept working as I always do and the reward came after.

“None of that matters now, anyway. I’m here, we’re all together and we’re fighting.”

Doucoure’s goal in the 2-2 draw at Nottingham Forest last time out was his first of the current campaign.

Now the Mali international is aiming to make that the start of a flurry in a bid to boost the Toffees’ potency in front of goal.

“Obviously, we know we haven’t scored enough goals this season,” he admits. “It’s not like we aren’t trying in training — in training it’s good but, obviously, that is different from games.

“We have to score more. Everyone.

“I include myself, of course. Sometimes I blame myself because I’ve had a couple of chances that I didn’t score.

“We have to be more ruthless in the box and it is not the responsibility of any one person. We have to look at ourselves and take the responsibility to score more goals that will win us games.”

On that topic, external noise continues to swirl around the fitness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the impact the return of the Club’s number nine could have on the Blues’ fortunes.

But Doucoure, like manager Dyche, is quick to dampen such talk.

“It’s not the right thing to do [to wait on Calvert-Lewin]”, he insists. “Dom has had his injury problem and we have to give him the right time to recover and be strong.

“We can’t wait around for him to come back and even when he is back we can’t put all the pressure on him — it’s not like that.

“There are no excuses.

“We have good players. Neal Maupay is a good player, Ellis [Simms] has done great with us since he’s been back and we all have to take responsibility. Then, when Dom does come back that is great for us.

“We know we all need to contribute with enough goals and in turn that will earn us wins to get us where we need to be.

“We are working very hard for that.”